Game of the week: Crosstown rivals Springfield and Thurston face off in decisive league play

The Thurston football team runs onto the field before a nonleague game Sept. 3 against Wilsonville.
The Thurston football team runs onto the field before a nonleague game Sept. 3 against Wilsonville.

It’s been a long time since there’s been a meaningful — let alone competitive — high school football game between Thurston and Springfield.

That could change Friday when the crosstown rivals face off in 7 p.m. Class 5A Special District 2 showdown at Thurston.

The Springfield Millers are 3-1 and on the rise after years of being one of the bottom teams in the league.

The Thurston Colts (2-2), who have played in the last three state championship games, have won two straight after opening the season with a pair of losses.

Both teams are 2-0 in league play and tied for the lead with Eagle Point. The winner Friday will remain atop the standings with four games to go.

“The school’s fired up and there’s a lot of belief over here on this side of town, so we’re going to take that and use it to attack the week,” Springfield coach Miles Haley said.

Thurston has won the last six games between the two programs, starting with a 39-36 victory in 2016. Since then, the Colts have won five straight by a combined score of 280-20.

Millers team putting in the work, changing culture

Thurston coach Justin Starck is expecting a tougher challenge this week.

“They’ve improved dramatically,” he said. “It’s amazing, the quick turnaround. You can see it in their body language and their confidence.”

The Millers’ last winning season came in 2015 when they went 9-2. Their most wins in a season since then came last year when they went 3-7.

Springfield has already matched that total this fall with wins against Ridgeview (40-33), Crater (33-15) and South Eugene (51-0) and a loss to Marist (41-20).

“First and foremost, the guys have put in work this past year,” Haley said. “Learning to win takes time and they’re definitely starting to do that. A great group of guys, a great group of athletes and the culture has shifted a ton here.”

The talent level has as well.

For the first time in a long time, the Millers have several playmakers on offense, led by quarterback Caeleb Kasperek.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior has thrown for 655 yards and 10 touchdowns on 42-of-70 passing with just two interceptions.

He’s also rushed 34 times for 180 yards and two scores.

“He’s been really, really good and he’s been getting better each week and more confident in what we’re asking of him,” Haley said. “He’s a talented kid who’s having a great year.”

Junior Connor Dye, a three-year starter, is Springfield’s top running back with 322 yards and four touchdowns on 52 carries.

Speedy receiver Dwayne Fotta is a versatile weapon who has 18 catches for 355 yards and six touchdowns. He also scored on a 70-yard punt return last week against South Eugene.

“Without a doubt he’s one of those guys I’m glad he’s on our side,” Haley said. “He’s a big difference maker.”

Colts developing depth, hoping for run

The Millers will need everything it can muster Friday against a team from Thurston that has carried the mantle the past six years as not just the best team in the city, but also one of the best in the state.

The Colts won 5A titles in 2018 and 2019, and lost in the championship game last season.

They opened this season with a 38-35 overtime loss to No. 10 Wilsonville and then were blown out by No. 3 Summit, 48-10, a week later. But they responded with with back-to-back wins the last two weeks against North Eugene (35-0) and Crater (42-21).

“We’re improving,” Starck said. “We’re improving and we’re developing depth … and just trying to prepare to make a run in late October, November.”

Sophomore Noah Blair has taken over as the Colts’ starting QB and has thrown for 639 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions on 49-of-60 passing.

“He’s just really playing well,” Starck said. “He played his best game (last) Friday against Crater. He’s just making great decisions.”

Blair’s primary target has been junior receiver Walker Bonar, who has 21 catches for 273 yards and three TDs. Senior Darien Witham is the leading rusher with 204 yards and two scores on 46 carries.

“They’re a really formidable program that’s a top-five team every year,” Haley said. “It’s fun to have those guys in the same town as you. What a great target to chase. If we’re at a point where we’re competing with those guys, then we’re doing something right over here.”

Other games Friday to watch

Sheldon at Roseburg, 7 p.m.: The fourth-ranked Irish (4-0, 2-0 SWC) have been on a roll the past two weeks, winning a pair of games by a combined score of 103-6. Next up is a trip south to play the Indians (0-3, 0-2), who scored their first points of the season last week in a 56-17 loss at Sprague. Sheldon is led by one of the top players in the state as senior quarterback Brock Thomas has thrown for 782 yards with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’s also rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns.

Churchill at South Eugene, 7 p.m.: One game after a three-point loss to No. 8 Eagle Point, the Lancers (1-3, 1-1 SD2) earned their first win of the season last week with an impressive 26-14 victory against Willamette. A win Friday on the road against the Axe (1-3, 0-2) would put Churchill into a tie for second place in the Class 5A Special District 2 league.

Siuslaw at Creswell, 7 p.m.: The Bulldogs (3-1, 1-0 MVC) are off to hot start and will host the reigning Class 3A state champions Vikings (2-2, 1-1), who had a senior-laden team in 2021. After getting shutout 40-0 by No. 4 Santiam Christian on Sept. 9, Creswell has scored 56 and 40 points in their last two wins and are averaging a conference-best 35.7 per game. Siuslaw’s defense is allowing an average of 16.5 points.

Junction City at Marshfield, 7 p.m.: The reigning Class 4A State champion Pirates (3-1) host the Tigers (3-1), who have returned to Class 4A this season after spending a few years at the 3A level. Marshfield lost 30-6 to Cascade in week two but rebounded with routs of North Bend (41-13) and Klamath Union (47-7). Junction City is averaging 39.0 points per game with its only loss a 35-33 thriller against Stayton two weeks ago.

Follow Chris Hansen on Twitter @chansen_RG or email at

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This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Rivals Springfield, Thurston face off in decisive league play